Bahrain : Fears that National Safety Appeal Court proceedings violate international human rights standards

Press release
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On September 6, 2011 the 21 political leaders and human rights activists sentenced on June 22nd to harsh prison sentences appeared before the National Safety Appeal Court.

At the close of this first and penultimate hearing, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its utmost concern with regard to proceedings, which once again disregard fair trial guarantees, and reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of these activists, and for the end of the proceedings against them, due to the arbitrary nature of these charges and of the entire proceedings.

« According to the information received, this last hearing demonstrates that the Bahraini judiciary cares nothing for the international human rights obligations and commitments of the government of Bahrain. While the judge of the National Safety Appeal Court (NSAC) has rejected all requests of the defence lawyers and, among others, those pertaining to impartial investigation into reports of torture and ill-treatment made by several defendants, he tarnishes once more the credibility of the judiciary » stated Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH [1]. FIDH is concerned that lawyers were given only one week to prepare and submit their appeal defense. Such a short notice comes in contradiction with the right to adequate time to prepare defense. In addition, the right to full access to the case file should be granted to the defendants lawyers. The publicity of debates has not been fully guaranteed, as visas have been denied by the Bahraini authorities to FIDH delegates who were given a mandate to monitor and assess the conformity of the trial with relevant international standards. The final verdict will be pronounced on September 28.

This hearing was the first in the appeal launched by 21 political leaders and human rights activists who were given harsh sentences (including life imprisonment) on June 22, 2011. They have been brought to trial before an exceptional court, the National Safety Court of First Instance (NSC), under charges of ”organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempt to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country,” and the “collection of money for a terrorist group” [2]. FIDH and other international human rights organisations have repeatedly denounced what they consider to be politically motivated charges. Moreover, violations of fair trial guarantees have been documented throughout the proceedings before the NSC, which was established to try people accused of crimes committed under the state of emergency.

In addition to failing to guarantee the most basics of fair trial, the Judiciary dodges today the issue of deciding on the legality and even constitutionality of the Royal Decree (decree no. “28” 2011), which has reversed a previous decision and allows again the prosecution of these defendants before an exceptional court. added Souhayr Belhassen.

Consequent to the lifting of the State of Emergency on July 1, the King of Bahrain issued a Royal Order that stated that all cases tried before the NSC would be transferred to ordinary courts, putting an end to prosecuting civilians before exceptional courts, a practice which contravenes international standards. However, this decision has been reversed with the adoption of Decree no. “28” 2011. According to this, it has been announced that several cases, including the present case, will be retransferred before the National Safety Courts. The defendants’ lawyers in this case, as well as those in charge of the defence of 20 medics also arbitrary prosecuted as it seems that charges against them mainly aimed at sanctioning them for exercing their professional duty or expressing opinion [3] have challenged the constitutionality of this decree. While the judge of the NSAC has rejected today the request of the lawyers on this issue, the judge of the NSC should determine on it on September 7, after he decided on August 28 to adjourn the hearing as a consequence of a memorandum presented by the defendants’ lawyers on the unconstitutionality of Decree 28.

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